Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Trip to Xi'an.

Sometime in October, we found out that there was to be an international conference (APEC) held in Beijing in November. Much of the city would be shut down, there would be restrictions to who could drive and when, and the government was asking for schools to close for a short period of time. As such, we ended up with an impromptu holiday which gave students and teachers 3 days away from school. My first thought - time to explore!

I have a travel bucket list for Asia that I aim to complete before leaving. So far I've been to Shanghai and Datong (which wasn't on my list, but I'm so glad I went!). Now I can check Xi'an off that list. 

Xi'an is most famous for being the site of the Terracotta Warriors. In my final year of my undergrad at St. Thomas University, I needed some courses to fill up my class schedule. I decided to take a first-year history class. In this class, we spent a period of time discussing ancient Chinese history. I don't remember a lot about this class, but I do remember learning about the Terracotta Warriors. I remember being marveled by the concept of it, and thinking to myself "Man, this is amazing! Imagine what it would be like in person." 

For those of you unfamiliar with what the Terracotta Warriors are, they are an army of terracotta soliders (and horses, weapons, and carriages) built by Emperor Qin (rather, the men he hired), who ruled over China from 259 BC - 210 BC. Emperor Qin is also the man who ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China. Essentially, he wanted these soldiers built so they would protect his tomb and himself in his afterlife. It is speculated that over 750,000 men worked on this terracotta warriors over 39 years and all of them were killed afterwards as the Emperor wanted the army to be kept a secret in fear that someone would try to destroy. 

In 1974, farmers who were out in the fields attempting to build a well, dug up one of the soldiers. They were very afraid when they first found the piece of the solider, and immediately began to bury it again. It is said that digging up someone's tomb leads to bad luck for eternity. During the process of re-burying, they found a piece of bronze. This brought them to a new realization as they knew that bronze was associated with importance and power. They reported what they found, later to discover that they had happened upon something so rich in history they would be forever famous. Since then, the area has been taken over and archeologists, researchers, and the government have spent the last 30 or so years digging up the soldiers and piecing them back together. And the work is not finished. They expect that it will take another 20 years to uncover all the soldiers (expected to be about 8000 of them) and piece them all back together. 

I can't find the words to best describe my experience getting to see the Terracotta Warriors first hand. I tried to describe it to my mother via text message and this is what I said: 

"It was cool to see it all, but the history and the things I learned is just mind boggling. Seeing something that is over 2000 years old, words!"

We purchased a tour guide to take us around the area. It was the best impulse buy I've made in a while. All of the information I have written here on the blog came from our guide. No Wikipedia, no history books, all from her mouth and knowledge of the subject. She had been working as a guide at the Terracotta Warriors Museum for 10 years. She knows her stuff! She answered every question we had, and gave us way more information than what was provided on the minimal signage around the museum and displays. The combination of the dense history lesson and seeing it all first hand is what makes this probably one of my favourite historical experiences I've had in China (next to the Great Wall).

One of my favourite things about living in China is how much history there is to learn about and soak up. Beijing itself is just swimming in history. What I have quickly come to learn about myself since moving here about 14 months ago is that I am becoming quite a history nerd. It gives me goosebumps and sends shocks through my body to witness first hand the things that make China what it is today. The things that shape its culture.  And in return, I am becoming more worldly and knowledgeable about the different ways of life in this big world of ours. It makes me want to travel more, to learn more, to see more, and to do more. Who knew that that fourth year student sitting in a first year history class marveling over pictures and words in a book, remarking about how amazing this piece of history is, would now be sitting in her apartment in a small village in Beijing reflecting on the history she had just seen? I guess dreams can come true...

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